Becoming a nurse: RN, BSN, bridging, and other nursing programs explained

4 min read


Many believe that all registered nurses (RNs) took the same path to obtain the RN credential. However, there are different ways you can gain your RN license, which are differentiated by your education level and the nursing program you chose to attend. This article will help you understand the differences and what additional opportunities exist with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. 

What is a registered nurse? 

A registered nurse (RN) is a nursing professional that provides direct patient care. Other tasks include:

  • Assessing and recording patient symptoms
  • Documenting patient progress
  • Participating in care planning
  • Administering ordered medications
  • Developing and managing nursing care plans 

RNs are knowledgeable about disease processes and trained to critically think about different patient situations to take appropriate action to benefit the patient’s well-being. 

An RN can work in various settings, including:

  • Private practice
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Nursing homes
  • Community health
  • Case management

They can also specialize in different areas such as pediatrics, adults, geriatrics, oncology, and many others. 

How do I become a registered nurse? 

There are three paths to becoming an RN. Each path leads to taking the NCLEX-RN exam that allows you to get the RN licensure needed to practice: 

  1. Diploma in Nursing: Provides the student with basic knowledge in nursing concepts, informatics, pharmacology, and public health. The program can last up to three years, and students are immersed in the clinical setting for direct patient care. However, there are not many diploma nursing programs left, and many clinical facilities will require the diploma-prepared RN to attain a higher degree. 
  2. Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): Prepares the student to enter the workplace after two years of full-time nursing classes and clinicals. These students receive the classes offered in the diploma program plus anatomy, microbiology, maternity, behavioral health, pediatrics, as well as writing, communications, psychology, and English literature. Upon graduation, they can transfer to a BS in Nursing program. After obtaining their RN license and entering the workplace, they can enroll in an RN to BSN program
  3. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree: Requires students to have a minimum of 120 credits that can be completed in four years, except RNs with an associate degree who can complete in two years. The curriculum focuses on holistic health promotion for students, clients, families, and communities, with a strong emphasis on professional development and the needs and future of the profession. Students can enter the BSN degree program directly from high school. If they have an Associates Degree in Nursing with an RN license, they can enroll in an RN to BSN program.

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Can you get a BSN without having an RN?

You can get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) without first being an RN — in fact, most that have chosen the BSN route usually get into the program straight from high school. Those who have an RN license before obtaining their BSN already have an Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN). Although the ADN route is cheaper, there is no right or wrong path to becoming a registered nurse. Additionally, accelerated nursing programs are offered to those who hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. These students must complete the prerequisites required to get into the nursing program but can get a BSN without having any prior nursing experience. 

What can you do with a BSN degree?

An RN with a BSN degree has more employment opportunities than an RN with an ADN or Diploma in Nursing. They also have increased job opportunities and are trained in specialty areas, which results in a higher level of pay than their counterparts. As minimum requirements for specific positions increase, those who are BSN-prepared may be required to fill these positions. For example, certain nursing specialties require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Some hospitals hire nurses with associate degrees, but the ANCC suggests hospitals have a plan to increase their bachelor-prepared nurses by 80%. Hospitals that aim for Magnet Status may have a BSN requirement or give preference to RNs with BSNs.   

Here is a list of a some of the clinical and non-clinical jobs that you can pursue with a BSN degree:

  • RN in any healthcare facility
  • Director of Nursing 
  • Pharmaceutical sales
  • Flight nurse
  • School nurse
  • Case manager
  • Nurse informatics
  • Quality improvement
  • Research nurse
  • Camp nurse
  • Operating room nurse
  • Outpatient care nurse
  • Hospice nurse

Obtaining a BSN degree will open you up for many career paths — if you are looking for even more opportunities, you can furthermore continue your studies and enroll in a Master of Science in Nursing program for an advanced practice degree.

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Dr. Margarita David DNP, RN, PCCN, CSN


Dr. Margarita David DNP, RN, PCCN, CSN


Dr. Margarita David DNP, RN, PCCN, CSN

Dr. Margarita David, DNP, RN, PCCN, CSN is a doctorally-prepared registered nurse and founder of the Dr. Registered Nurse Success Academy, LLC, that provides tutoring, mentoring, and consulting to prospective nurses, nurses, and students in graduate and doctoral studies. Dr. David is also a nursing school clinical adjunct and developed a successful Pharmacology Boot Camp and NCLEX Test-Taking Strategy course that has been presented to hundreds of students nationwide. Dr. David has a YouTube channel called Dr. Registered Nurse, where she makes hard-to-understand nursing school concepts easy to comprehend. She holds a Bachelor in Business Management & Administration, Bachelor in Nursing, and a Master in Nursing Education and Leadership. She has been married for over 20 years and is a mother of 3.